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  November 6, 2000

Outreach Program Brings Arts into People's Lives

Tom Morehouse says he's got the best job at the University. "I work with top faculty and students and share their talents and expertise with the people of southern New England," says Morehouse, director of outreach for the School of Fine Arts.

The UConn Arts Outreach Program offers a mix of educational, cultural and performance activities to residents throughout Connecticut, from classrooms to corporate headquarters. Morehouse, who was hired to run the program in 1990, says it has a dual purpose. "The first is to share the talent and expertise of faculty and students with people off campus. The second is an educational purpose for our own faculty, staff and students. We need to have a stage beyond the campus where students, who will one day be professionals, can have real-world experiences."

When Morehouse joined the University, there were just a handful of arts outreach activities. "I had to let people know we existed, so I started driving around the state like crazy. I talked with each school district administrator, each branch campus director, each community college president or director and each first-selectman in the towns," he says.

Now, the program has expanded to more than 300 activities a year. Concerts, clinics, workshops, lectures and exhibits have been offered to public schools, libraries, civic organizations, senior centers, hospitals, universities and colleges in more than 80 cities and towns across Connecticut.

There is no charge for most of these activities: the only limitations are availability and scheduling.

We're trying to bring the arts to communities around the state, Morehouse says. "Many people think of the arts as just entertainment, but the arts are what make us human.

"The arts should be part of everyday life," he adds, "even if it's just listening to something on the radio, playing a CD, or admiring the design of a magazine or website. That's art. It doesn't have to be heavy and pedantic and you don't have to wear a necktie to enjoy it."

Some 100,000 people a year throughout southern New England are touched by Arts Outreach, which includes off-campus and on-campus performances, workshops, lectures, exhibitions and clinics by the departments of art, music and dramatic arts, as well as the Benton Museum, Jorgensen Auditorium, and Puppet Arts program.

"Arts Outreach enriches everyone's life," Morehouse says.

To illustrate the point, he recalls a recent performance of Hansel and Gretel by UConn Opera.

"We were doing a fully costumed and staged performance of Hansel and Gretel at an elementary school that has many children with special needs," he says. "The teachers had been given a teaching packet beforehand that included a lullaby for the children to learn to sing and during the performance the children were invited to sing along with Hansel and Gretel.

"Later, Gretel asked a quiet child with Down syndrome what he liked about the opera and he said, 'Usually when I come to school, my teachers teach me to brush my teeth, to tie my shoes and to button my buttons. But today you taught us to sing.'

"I always get a tear in my eye when I think about that," Morehouse says. "That wonderful child pretty much summed up the purpose of Arts Outreach: it brings the arts to everyone."

Morehouse checks out performance sites beforehand and attends almost every one of the off-campus performances.

Visits to the schools encourage them to take the arts seriously, Morehouse says. About five years ago the University Symphony Orchestra was asked to perform at a Connecticut high school. The music supervisor said the concert had to be on a specific night at a specific time, saying that there was an important reason to have it on that night.

Two days after the symphony performed, Morehouse got a call from the supervisor who thanked him for accommodating the school. "Our performance was right before a school board meeting to decide whether to continue the music program in the schools," says Morehouse. "They had planned to cut it. Instead, they ended up increasing the staffing."

Arts Outreach also includes lectures, workshops, clinics and technical assistance. Lectures are available on a variety of topics including medieval art, feminism and art, folk art, photographic techniques, publicity, promotion and advertising for the arts, set design, creative dramatics for children, and the history of puppetry.

The Arts Outreach program also shares faculty expertise on "how to make things run," Morehouse says. When public schools put on productions, they typically have one of the English teachers with little background in technical theater devoting his or her time after school to put on a play, he says. UConn faculty with expertise in lighting, sound design, building or painting props and costume design go out and advise them on putting the show together.

The outreach program also includes on-campus activities. The Connecticut Repertory Theatre, the performance arm of the dramatic arts department, invites high school students to attend special performances of the main stage CRT productions, for example.

"We have an arts outreach educational packet that we send to literature and drama teachers all around southern New England. Almost every one of the student matinees has sold out," Morehouse says.

Over the years, faculty have often been called upon to go to high schools to work with their orchestras and other ensembles. These students then come to campus, where they rehearse with UConn students and perform with them on the von der Mehden stage.

"People not only want to enrich the arts experiences for their community," says Morehouse, "but they want to use the expertise of our faculty to enrich the education of their students."

A cellist, Morehouse earned his doctorate in music education from the University of Houston. He is also network and systems manager for the School of Fine Arts, and supervises the school's website and their newsletter ARTSzine online.

He would like to see the program continue to expand. "We want to have people think of the University of Connecticut as a center for arts resources," he says. "No," he adds, "as the center."

Sherry Fisher